Monday, November 28, 2011

Sermon on the Psalms for Thanksgiving Eve, "Giving Thanks with the Psalms"

Sermon Outline

1. “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15). Remembering to give thanks is sometimes a matter of opening our mouths to give thanks back to God. Forgetful, ungrateful, reluctant, preoccupied. Worship calls us to stop from our busy-ness, and open our mouths to give praise and thanks for God. Open our lips in praise and thanksgiving more often! Acknowledges God is the giver.

2. What is a life lived without gratitude (thanksgiving)? Selfishness, discontent, greed, jealousy. Gratitude keeps us from selfishness; recognizes what we have is a gift, not our own. Gratitude makes us open to sharing. Gratitude frees us to be contented; thankful for whatever we have, not expecting more. God provides. Gratitude guards against greed and jealousy; satisfied with what’s my own—happy to help others protect and keep what is theirs. Celebrate what you have been given, also what they have been given! (9th & 10th Commandments).

3. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Ps 9:1). Wholehearted thanks—more than just an obligatory “thank you.” How to give thanks? Start by telling all the things God has done. Go through one by one, name what God has done—individually; family; church; community; world/humanity. The crowning, wonderful deeds of God will always be His love and mercy in sending Jesus. His death and resurrection for us, overthrowing sin and death, giving forgiveness and eternal life.

4. “I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.” (Ps. 35:18. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Ps. 57:9) Giving thanks is something we should do before others—both in the church, the assembly of God’s people, and also before all peoples. Singing God’s praise among the nations. Shows we are not ashamed to give God the credit and glory. Takes the spotlight off of us.

5. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1). Honor God, and not ourselves. Difference between pride and humility. Gratitude leads us to give credit where due, and doesn’t seek to build ourselves up with self-praise.

6. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people…I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps. 116:12-14, 17) How do we repay God for all that He’s done? Impossible that we could ever. But we do give back ourselves to Him—call on His name. Offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Give thanks back to Him. Render our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1)

7. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps 103:1-5). As you are thankful this and next year, forget not all his benefits. Don’t forget what God has done. We are called to remember and to thank God for all He’s done. We know God is worthy of all our thanks and praise. Forgiveness, healing, redemptions, life, crown, strength. Won for us through God’s love and mercy, all thanks to Him!

Sermon on Isaiah 64:1-9, for the First Sunday in Advent, "The Incomparable God"

Sermon outline:

1. Ancient words from 2,700 years ago, still so applicable today. We wish that God would reveal Himself in His strength and power, with awesome miracles as of old. Show His power to His enemies and unbelievers. Recalls the miracles of the Exodus—Mount Sinai quaking at God’s presence, His powerful and fearsome miracles to deliver His people. Awesome things not looked for. Show us again! Today we also wish to see the miracles and power of God. Don’t remain hidden. Silence the mockers and doubters.

2. Isaiah’s time, Israel felt God was silent toward them. Enemies had taken Jerusalem and the Temple, Jews in exile in Babylon. A prayer filled with humility and sadness, recognizing their own guilt having brought judgment on the people and land. Admits they have been in sin a long time. Can they be saved? What firm ground can we stand on to face God when He does come? Our own righteousness? No. Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Then how?

3. I know there are people around us, if not you yourselves, then certainly among the friends and family of people here, who doubt if they can be saved, because of their sins. Believe in God in their heart, but fear His anger against their sin and disobedience. Fear it is irreparable. God could not, or would not take them back. Use words to describe themselves like: worthless, damaged goods, broken, lost, abandoned. Yet these are the ones Christ came to save! Joyfully, God can save us, though we have been in our sins a long time.

4. They have melted in the “hand of their iniquities”—guilt. We have all experienced suffering for our own sins, eating the bitter fruit of our actions. This guilt, this sin, even our righteous deeds that are like filthy rags—are an unbearable burden before our God. Unbearable before the incomparable, holy, sinless, perfect God. Face His wrath and anger and punishment.

5. Yes, God has anger against sin. It’s impossible that God could love or approve of sin, which is evil and contrary to His very nature. God will finally bring judgment one day against wickedness and those who reject Him. He will come as the prayer asks, “rending the heavens and coming down”. Jesus’ return will be in power and glory. His name will be known to all His enemies. We do not know how long God will withhold His judgment, so we should not test Him by our disobedience. But we know why He delays—He delays because it’s His desire that all repent and believe, so they can be saved. Wants our salvation/rescue.

6. Isaiah knew God was also merciful. God was unlike the false gods—because God did awesome things we did not look for. God’s salvation is not in a predictable way, such as we could have imagined. Not according to our own goodness—“all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”—but according to His mercy. Coming of Jesus for salvation was filled with “un-looked for” miracles and deeds. Jesus revealed the kingdom of God, and showed His grace in an unexpected and unlooked for way. No other God like Him, who acts for those who wait for Him. Incomparable God. Unequaled in goodness, love, and mercy.

7. Isaiah prayed that God had hidden His face from them because of their sins. The Psalmist (51) prays that God would hide His face from our sins, and blot them out. Isaiah prays that God would not be so angry, and would not remember our sins—Jeremiah (31:34) answers that God would forgive our sins and remember them no more. How has this hope of the prophet been fulfilled, for him and for us? Jesus turned away God’s anger against sin, by taking it fully on Himself at the cross. Face wrath and punishment for sin, so that God would hide His face from our sins, remember them no more, and would instead show His Fatherly face of love toward us, and remember us as His people. He acts for us because we wait (in faith) for Him.

8. God remembers that we are dust, knows our frame. He is the potter who made us, and knows our frailties. Scripture fits together beautifully, with pleas of mercy to God, and answers of His great and abiding love for us, such as Psalm 103:8-19, which could be given as a direct answer to the prayer in Isaiah 64:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Ps 103:8-19).

9. God will return, and it will be fearful for those who place themselves as enemies of God, by rejection and disobedience. But for those who have known and trusted in His gracious coming in the person of Jesus Christ, who have laid hold of His promises and joyfully wait for His return, when He rends the heavens and comes down—His coming will be a day of joy and celebration. The firm ground on which we can stand to face God in His glorious coming is the righteousness and innocence of Jesus Christ. God will at last call His children home to the inheritance prepared for them—the new heavens and new earth. God in His full power and glory—face to face, not hidden, but revealed and present among us as our God.

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. Why might we wish, like Isaiah did in Isaiah 64, that God would come down and reveal His power and glory? What miraculous deeds of God did his prayer recall? Exodus 20:18-21.

  1. Why did Isaiah and the Jews feel as though God was silent towards them? Isaiah 63:17-19; 64:9-12. How do we sometimes feel or fear the same? That God is silent toward us because of our sins? How do we sometimes suffer under the guilt of our sin, when it remains unconfessed to God? Cf. Psalm 32 & 51

  1. How are some people moved to total fear of God, so that they doubt God could even love or save them? Are they really beyond the reach of God’s love? Luke 18:13-14; 5:31-32

  1. How has Jesus turned away God’s wrath against our sin? Romans ; 3:25; 5:9; 1 John 2:2

  1. How will Jesus “rend the heavens and come down” on the day of Judgment? Acts 1:11; Matthew 26:64; 1 Thess. 4:16-18

  1. Why does God presently delay His return for the final judgment? 2 Peter 3:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:4

  1. How were Jesus’ miracles and teachings “awesome” and “unlooked for” things from our incomparable God? How does God hide His face from our sins? Psalm 51:9; Jer. 31:34

  1. How does God remember and respond to our frailty as mortal human beings? Psalm 103:8-19; Where will He bring us at His return? Is. 65:17

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46, for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, "Whose Mercy First?"

Sermon Outline

1. Concern for Christians—what happens on the day of Judgment? Grace? Good works? How am I saved? How to be one of the sheep? How does Jesus know who are His sheep?

2. After Jesus’ separation of blessed from cursed, He evaluates their works. Yes, He will see our works. Particularly here mercy. Did they show mercy or not? Surprise in the parable is that Christ was hidden in the needy neighbor, the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned. He saw through the eyes of the needy neighbor whether we showed mercy or not. These merciful deeds or good works, are evaluated in the judgment. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

3. In our preview of the Day of Judgment, God shows mercy to those who were merciful. But whose mercy came first? Did God show mercy in saving the sheep because they had first shown mercy to others? Or did the sheep show mercy to others because God had first showed mercy to them in saving them? Not just word games—but a vital question. Did God respond to their merciful works by saving them? Good works are the cause, and our salvation is the effect? Or did they respond to God’s merciful work of salvation by showing mercy to others? God’s mercy and salvation is the cause, and our good works are the effect?

4. For many reasons as we’ll show, the choice clearly must be the second. God’s mercy came first, and was the very thing that caused the merciful good works of the sheep.

5. First, the separation of sheep and goats happens before the works are judged. Already defined identity. Who are the sheep? How does Jesus know who are His? Jesus teaches in John 10 that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. Those who do not follow His voice are the goats. We are sheep if we have heard Jesus’ voice and followed His call. By grace we are His sheep—by grace He called us and guards us against danger. Jesus had pity on the crowds He saw in His ministry, because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Our shepherd came for His helpless sheep.

6. Second, the sheep are invited to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Inherit is a grace word. Not earned, but given to family or adopted family. Our adoption into God’s family was in baptism. Before the foundation of the world. Before any good or bad works were done. God had already prepared it and chosen His sheep.

7. Titus 3 talks about this question of cause and effect also. What comes first? God’s mercy and our trust in that? Or the good works/life of mercy we live? Does our mercy come first, and God’s follows after us? Titus chapter three begins by describing how we too were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, sinners driven and pulled by our passions and pleasures, and doing evil. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

8. First we were trapped in our sins, harassed and helpless, and then God appeared in His goodness and loving kindness. God’s mercy came first. Here’s the vital and deciding point: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness”. It wasn’t because we had accumulated good works, it was not because of our prior glistening record of merciful deeds that God had a change of heart and saved us. No, He saw us in our sin and disobedience, gone astray from God, but in His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. He saved us through baptism, our spiritual rebirth, where God gave us a new birth, a new spirit.

9. Titus 3 goes on to record that He poured out this baptismal washing on us generously through Jesus, so that we would be justified (that is declared or counted innocent before God). How? How were we declared innocent? By our works again? No, by His grace! undeserved! And being justified by grace makes us heirs of eternal life. So we are brought right back to Jesus’ words: “come, inherit…” Inheritance that is a free gift. God’s grace. Then what about the works? Isn’t it a contradiction then that Jesus goes on to examine their works before sending them into eternal life, or sending the goats into eternal punishment?

10. Not at all. Because God’s mercy, and our trust in Him as those who hear and follow His voice is the cause—but good works are the effect. They do follow after, and it’s no contradiction that they will be seen and evaluated in the judgment. If there is not faith there to produce the works, then they will obviously be absent.

11. Titus 3, after affirming that salvation and justification is all by grace, all God’s gift, continues by saying: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” Notice the cause and effect again? The reason God did this for us, is so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. The merciful life, the excellent and profitable things that Christians are to do are the natural response of faith. Mercy marks the Christian because mercy marked Christ.

12. Both individually and as a church body, mercy should mark our daily actions. Feeding of the thirsty and hungry, showing hospitality to the stranger. Clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Who does it? Church? Gov’t? Secular charities? Not for us to pass off responsibility. Not to be seen by others or for recognition. Surprise of the sheep that they had done them. Forgetful of the good done, because not for credit, to earn salvation, approval, applause, etc. But done freely and willingly out of mercy, as we have received mercy.

13. The goats, those who are condemned on The Day, are forgetful that they ever didn’t do those things. Fundamental difference of how the believer and the unbeliever sees the neighbor in their need. Believer sees Christ in their need…unbeliever does not see Christ in the need of the poor. This mercy was already a quality built into (the sheep) by faith in Jesus. It was missing in the goats because they had no faith.

14. To show mercy for the neighbor, the poor, the stranger, is to show mercy to Christ in disguise. Watch and be mindful of those opportunities. Additional ways to help beyond what we already do? Food pantry. Other needs? How will we respond?

15. God is first merciful to us. We love because He first loved us. Judgment Day is the final sorting after Jesus’ rescue mission to earth has fully been carried out. Came for the lost, hurting, the harassed and helpless. Found and called lost sheep to hear and follow. Followed through suffering and cross. Christians marked by mercy as Christ is mercy. Judgment is the final separation. Those who followed Him and were merciful. Those who did not follow & so were not merciful. Greatest joy that God is a God of mercy, because He gives of Himself freely and undeservedly. Not anything we earned. His generosity. “Because when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy”. May His goodness and mercy always shape our lives. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points

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1. What thoughts/emotions fill your mind at the thought of Judgment Day? Fear? Dread? Indifference? Doubt? Confidence? Anticipation? Why?

2. What separation will take place on that day? What will be taken into consideration in that judgment? Does this mean that we are saved by good works? See Titus 3:3-5. Which comes first? God’s mercy toward us? Or our merciful works? Which is the cause and which is the effect? Good works are a product of what? Titus 3:8

3. How does one become an heir? Titus 3:7; Galatians 3:26-4:7.

4. When did God prepare His kingdom for us? How does this also preclude works from being the cause of our salvation? Ephesians 1:3-5

5. Who are the sheep? How are they known? John 10:1-18

6. Why is mercy characteristic of Christians? Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:37; 18:33.

7. What are ways that we can be more conscious of our needy neighbors? How can we support them? What organizations? On an individual level?

8. Why should the Christian doing good works not seek attention, praise, or recognition? Matthew 6:1-17

9. How does God’s mercy prepare us for (and spare us on) the day of Judgment? For what reason does He? 1 John 2:2

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30, for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Let us be found faithful"

1. Jesus’ departure and return. Amazing that Christ makes us stewards of His gifts so that we be found faithful when He returns. Keys to the kingdom of heaven. Speaking the forgiveness of sins that opens heaven to repentant believers. It also locks the gate to those who have no sorrow over their sin, or reject the Savior Jesus.

2. Stewards of our time—not wasteful or lazy, as the unworthy servant. Stewards of our treasure. Money is a gift that God entrusts to us. Put it to good use. NT teaches giving motivated out of thankfulness and joy, not begrudgingly. But should be done and developed as a discipline. Expected to put it to good use.

3. If we take something of worth that God gives to us, and we bury it for no use, then we will be found poor and faithless stewards. But if we put it to use, it will be for the benefit of others.

4. Our talents. Parable about money, but wider application intended. Different gifts, according to our ability. Not for jealousy or rivalry but service of others.

4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,

and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

5. God’s gifts, put to use, will bear fruit. But God’s measurement was not how much was produced (successfulness) but that His gift was put to use (faithfulness).

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 13:3-8

6. Burying your talent out of fear. Justified in his inaction because of fear? No. Rather condemned. View of God? Cruel, harsh, hard man? If that were really true, wouldn’t inaction be all the more inexcusable? Assumed the task was harder than it actually was. Even mere investment would have been better than nothing. Hands back money: “Here, you have what is yours” implies wanting nothing to do with what was given/entrusted. Profess to believe in God, but do everything to waste or nothing to honor/use what He’s given? Will that be rewarded?

7. Small catechism describes gifts we’ve been given:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.

All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

8. Christ has supplied us with all good gifts. Prepared us to be good stewards. His gift abounds and produces fruit. Counts faithfulness and use of gifts, not the measure of our success. Not a cruel taskmaster—only asks faithfulness with the measure we’ve been given, according to our ability and His grace.

9. What is the report we look forward to and anticipate at the end of our life? Do we wish to be left outside of God’s kingdom in a place of weeping and regret, because we were a wicked and lazy servant? Or to be commended “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” This commendation comes by grace from God—because His gift, by His grace was put to use in our lives. We are to practice faithfulness with what He entrusts, so He will find us faithful when He returns. We labor God gives the growth. Spirit of Jesus at work bearing fruit within us. Christ’s gifts bring returns when we put them to use. If we are putting them to use, no matter how successful, whether through trials, errors, failures, and successes, we can know that He will count us faithful, because He Himself is faithful to all His promises.

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. What does the “man going on a journey” represent in this and other parables? Matt. 21:33; 25:5; John 14:1-6; 16:16-33; Acts 1:6-11
  2. What is the significance of his entrusting his property to the servants? What does he expect them to do until he returns? What has Jesus entrusted us (His servants) with?
  3. What are the gifts or talents that God has specifically given to you? (note that in the parable, “talents” refers to a measurement of money. However, in applying the parable, God-given abilities (“talents” in the other sense) are appropriately included). How are you putting your “talents” to use?
  4. Have you “buried” any of your gifts or talents? Have you used the blessings and time, talent, treasure that God has given you for your own personal gain and not for others?
  5. When the master takes account of the servants, does he measure their success, or their faithfulness? What’s the difference? If we put what God has entrusted to us to good use, do you think it matters how successful (in earthly terms) we are with it? 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. Who “gives the growth” when we labor for God?
  6. What is the reward of the two good and faithful servants? What is the punishment of the unworthy servant? The unworthy servant evaluates the master as literally a harsh or cruel man, and justifies his inaction by his fear of the master. Does the master affirm that description of himself, or judge the servant by his own words? Luke 19:20-22.
  7. Is God a harsh or cruel master? Or will He let people who already think that see Him that way? See Psalm 18:25-26 (compare translations) How would the two worthy servants perceive their master? How do we see God’s generosity and mercy toward us? How does He supply all we need to be faithful servants?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17, for All Saints' Day, "For All the Saints"

Sermon Outline

  1. We believe that those who have believed in Jesus Christ, have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb of God, are standing together at God’s throne worshipping. Continuing the song of praise they began in this life—salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb. Alone can save.
  2. Distinct beings in heaven—separate classes of angels, four living creatures, and the saints and elders (humans gone to heaven). Contrast to sentimental notion that we become angels when we die.
  3. Saints clothed in white—through the tribulation, washed in the blood.
  4. They serve God day and night in His temple
  5. God shelters the saints: no hunger, thirst, no scorching heat. The Lamb is the Shepherd. Interesting merging of metaphors—the Lamb of God was Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins. But as the Shepherd, He leads and cares for His flock. Psalm 23, guiding them to springs of Living Water.
  6. God is wiping away all tears from their eyes.
  7. Sorrow in this life can be inexpressible. Who can comfort our sorrows as God can? Yet here in life we still often have the feeling of separation from God. We know that God is everywhere, that He is omnipresent—but what comfort does that bring someone if they don’t know where or how they can grab ahold of Him (or rather, where they can be assured that God has grabbed ahold of them)? In the water of baptism, you were washed and God’s name was placed on you. God began an ongoing relationship with you as Father to dearly loved child. In the Word of God, He speaks directly to you, for the repentance of your sins and forgiveness in Jesus. In the Lord’s Supper, you receive His body and blood in your hand and mouth. God is there for us to grab ahold of Him. He holds us securely in His arms, so that nothing, not even death can snatch us out of them.
  8. Who can count the saints? They are innumerable, they will shine like the stars in the heavens (Daniel 12:3). Do you ever think about the fact that while we are worshipping in church, we are not gathered merely as the 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 here, but we are gathered in the presence of God, and we join in the heavenly songs of worship that are being sung by that multitude of saints around the throne.
  9. What makes a saint different from those who are not? The measure of a saint is not their perfection of life; because all the saints were and are also sinners. The measure of a saint is that they trusted in God. The word saint means “holy one”. But holy not because of their good works, but holy because Jesus cleanses us and makes us holy. The white robes of the saints in the vision of heaven are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Come now let us reason together… Holiness of life follows after faith in Christ. Saints in Christ do commit themselves to holy living, and seeking God’s path, despite their failures in this life. Saints can be remarkable for their life as redeemed sinners, but never perfect.
  10. Have you ever noticed how “musical” the book of Revelation is? That there are many scenes of worship and hymns of praise to God throughout? Some of those hymns have even become part of the church’s song here on earth. Songs like “This is the Feast” or hymns like “Behold a Host Arrayed in White” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns” or “The Lamb” or “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” or “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” and many other hymns directly draw on the imagery of heaven and the words of praise found in the book of Revelation. The music in heaven is going to be glorious! Anyone who’s seen or heard a song festival, or great choir of voices singing in beautiful harmonies, or resounding in powerful unison, and had that “chicken skin” or tingly feeling run up your back with joy, has experienced the power of music. You’ve had a small glimpse of what the heavenly worship will sound like. Martin Luther called music God’s second greatest gift, second only to theology—the study of God’s Word. Music has the power to “drive away the devil and make people cheerful…to forget anger, [impurity], pride, and other vices. [He placed] music next to theology and gave it the highest praise.” He believed that music must be taught in the schools, and that it made fine, skillful people. He felt that music should be taught to the youth so that they were “weaned from the love ballads and the sex songs, and instead of these, learn something beneficial.” He wanted music and the arts to be redeemed for God’s purposes, so that the faith could be sung into the hearts of the people, and be made memorable.(What Luther Says, p. 979-81). It has the power, Luther believed, and I do as well, to drive away fear and the devil.
  11. I think also that it is a lie put into our minds by the devil, that heaven will somehow be a boring, lifeless, or uninteresting. Perhaps this Bible passage has even been misunderstood to picture heaven as “eternal choir practice.” It does say that the saints will serve God day and night in His temple, but the picture of heaven is far from dull if you read the book of Revelation. It is a colorful, beautiful place of joy, life, celebration, feasting and song. To think that heaven could in any way be disappointing or dull is to wrongly assume that God who created us, who gave us the good and healthy desires for the good things and joys of His creation, would somehow not know what was good and best for us. It strangely imagines that God is “out of touch” with what would give the greatest joy and peace to the people that He minted in His own image. Nothing could be further from the truth! We only know glimpses and shadows of what heaven will be like, but as Paul wrote, we see now as in a mirror darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). There’s much we can’t even grasp or understand about what heaven will be like. But there is one thing that we can be sure of—that it will be Paradise! That it will be the unsurpassed joy of knowing God face to face, having no more suffering, and experiencing the world as it should have been. Experiencing the creation as God intended it to be, not as it has been corrupted through sin.
  12. Since eternity is forever, we sometimes might fear that it will be too long or drag on, or get boring. But the problem isn’t with what God has waiting for us in heaven, but the problem is with our own human flesh, and how we perceive it. Suspecting that heaven could ever be disappointing or boring is to doubt God’s power, that He would somehow make something inferior.
  13. Want to be a saint? Fear you can’t? Wash your robes in the blood of the lamb. Take the forgiveness Jesus freely offers through His blood shed on the cross and be washed clean. His is the purity, the innocence, the holiness that we wear as we join the heavenly throng of worshippers around the throne.